The following is taken from Women of Courage, Ten North Country Pioneers in Profile, written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women (1989).
Kellas Hall on the Potsdam College campus is named after a renowned educator whose academic career started at Potsdam Normal School in 1887.
Eliza Kellas was born on October 4, 1864, on a farm near Mooers Forks in Franklin County, NY. She grew up on this 300 acre farm which her father ran in addition to being a lumberman with an interest in a shoe-last plant in Boston. In her father's eyes she was a boy and was treated as such. Within the family she was a leader and often helped her father in the community.
Eliza's education began in a one room schoolhouse. She herself began teaching at age 16 in 1880. In 1887 she entered Potsdam Normal School and graduated two years later. She stayed on to teach in the Preparatory Department. In 1891 she left to accept a position as Principal of the Intermediate Department and methods teacher at Plattsburg Normal School. During her ten years of service at Plattsburg, she rose to the position of Preceptress or Dean of Students.
1901 was a fateful year for her. Her mother died and the family was broken up. Her father moved to Malone to live with a brother. Eliza resigned from Plattsburg and went to live with a friend, Mary Lyon. She worked as an aide, confidant, and governess to three children.
At age 41 she entered Radcliffe College and graduated in 1910. During these years she traveled abroad and greatly widened her views on education for women. In 1911 she took the position of headmistress at Emma Willard School in Troy, NY. She was a strikingly handsome woman, tall, with auburn hair and fair skin. She was always fashionably dressed and cut a remarkable figure in Troy.
By 1916 Emma Willard School has expanded and added Russell Sage College to its charter. By 1917 Eliza has succeeded in securing a separate charter for Russell Sage from the Board of Regents; she became the first dean of that college. In 1927 Russell Sage became an independent, degree-granting women's college. She retired from Russell Sage in 1928 and returned to Emma Willard as co-headmistress with her sister Katherine. She stayed in this post until 1942 and died in 1943. She is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy.
As an educator, Eliza Kellas was noted for her exacting scholarship and logical thinking. She was tireless in her ambition and always innovative. She liberalized the school and she stressed science education for women. She actively recruited students from outside the immediate geographical area. She developed a house-mother system for dormitories, and she set up student government, and emphasized student responsibility. She began a program of extensive renovation and expansion of the campus.
Her memorial is the school she so largely created, Russell Sage, and the inspiration she gave hundreds of girls whom she influenced so profoundly. It is fitting that the name Kellas receive everlasting recognition on the campus at Potsdam College, where Eliza Kellas and her sister Katherine began their academic careers.
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